NEW YORK — On his way up the hockey ladder, the scouting report on Teddy Blueger was always the same.
Great defensive centerman. Offensive game leaves something to be desired.
Twenty-three games into his NHL career, Blueger is doing his part to tear that scouting report to bits.
Blueger scored a pair of goals as the Pittsburgh Penguins overcame a lackluster start to earn a 5-2 victory over the New York Rangers on Monday night.
“We know we have the firepower in here to get back in those kinds of games,” Blueger said. “It’s not the first time we’ve been down. We didn’t get down on ourselves and just kind of kept pushing each other and got back into it.”
The Penguins finished a four-game road trip with a 3-0-1 record. They moved back into a second-place tie with the New York Islanders in the Metropolitan Division, one point behind first-place Washington.
In the Eastern Conference playoff race, the Penguins moved seven points up on eighth-place Montreal and nine points ahead of ninth-place Columbus.
Blueger’s goals made sure the Penguins wouldn’t have to suffer through the same type of nail-biter they did on the first three legs of the trip.
Late in the second period, after a failed short-handed two-on-one with Bryan Rust, he stepped out from behind the left post and backhanded a shot past goalie Alexandar Georgiev to give the Penguins a 4-2 lead.
In the third, he jammed in the rebound of a Jared McCann shot to make it 5-2.
Blueger has six goals and 10 points in 23 games and is filling in admirably as second-line center while Evgeni Malkin is on the mend from an upper-body injury. But check out coach Mike Sullivan’s assessment of the rookie’s play even after Monday night’s game:
“Teddy’s a good player,” Sullivan said. “He’s a conscientious player, he’s a good two-way player, he’s got great defensive awareness, he’s good in his own end, he’s a good penalty killer and he’s shown an ability to produce some offense.”
That’s five bullet points about his defense before mentioning his offense. Sullivan means it as a compliment, of course, but Blueger just as soon would put that perception to bed.
“Maybe when I first got to Wilkes, I was probably labeled a bit too much as a defensive guy and a grinder,” Blueger said. “The last couple years down there, I’ve been able to show that I can score. Just because I’ve got more defensive responsibility right now doesn’t mean I can’t score.”
Given how the Penguins started the game, it’s a good thing Blueger can score.
They fell behind 2-0 to a rebuilding Rangers team depleted by in-season trades. Brendan Lemieux finished a three-on-two rush, and Vinni Lettieri converted on the power play.
“Not much really needed to be said,” Nick Bjugstad said. “We all knew what the deal was. We needed to just be better, bottom line.”
Thirty-four seconds after Lettieri’s goal, Bjugstad cashed in the rebound of a Marcus Pettersson shot to make it 2-1 and start the comeback.
“That was a huge goal because it kept the game in striking distance for us,” Sullivan said.
Early in the second period, Sidney Crosby took a pass from Phil Kessel behind the net and found Justin Schultz sneaking into the high slot from the left point to make it 2-2. About six minutes later, Matt Cullen came out of the right-wing corner and whipped a puck over Georgiev’s shoulder to give the Penguins the lead for good.
“It wasn’t our best,” Sullivan said. “We knew it. Our players knew it. To their credit, they responded the right way in the second and the last 40 minutes.”